Bush Campaigns for Indiana Congressman

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During the midterm election cycle President Bush has made relatively few public appearances with congressional hopefuls. But Saturday he took to the stump in southern Indiana for Rep. Mike Sodrel — an incumbent in a tight race.


From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Debbie Elliott.

President Bush appeared at a campaign rally for a Republican congressman in southern Indiana today. This was actually a rather unusual event this campaign season.

NPR's White House correspondent David Greene is traveling with the president and joins me now.

David, why is it unusual for the president to be out on the campaign trail?

DAVID GREENE: Well, Debbie, he's been on the campaign trail. He's been doing a lot of fundraisers. We've been at fundraising lunches and dinners and receptions, anywhere they can get Republican donors together, and those events are closed to everyone but donors who pay to get in.

Today was unusual because this was really the first open, old fashioned campaign rally that we've seen the president appear at in a while. It was the first time that I remember since 2004, really feeling the kind of electric atmosphere.

And you know, the White House - because the president's popularity is so low right now, his approval ratings in the upper 30s, their choices are very, very limited where they can hold events like this. They're starting to now and this was the first in what we're going to see as a series. But again, the map is pretty small as to where they can bring him and be able to draw an excited crowd.

ELLIOTT: Who was he out stumping for today?

GREENE: It was a congressman who was in a very tight race, Mike Sodrel, in southern Indiana. It's a race that appears too close to call right now. And there were about 4000 supporters inside a high school gymnasium with a lot of posters for the candidate, and also I spotted, outside at least, a few people bringing out their Bush-Cheney '04 posters for one more run.

ELLIOTT: Now what kind of response did the president get making his speech there in Indiana?

GREENE: It was pretty excited, Debbie. Outside there were some protesters, people with signs saying, Impeach Bush and We Don't Need Anymore Bush Toadies in Congress. So definitely some dissenters, but inside the 4000 people who got their tickets - it was first come, first serve - they got their tickets through the campaign, the Republican campaign, a lot of cheering, chanting, USA, USA, cheering the president like crazy.

I think we have some tape here to play. It was the president talking about the war on terrorism, really getting the crowd revved up. Let's take a listen here.

President GEORGE W. BUSH: Do you want your government to listen in on the terrorists?

CROWD: Yeah!

President BUSH: Do you want your government to detain the terrorists?

CROWD: Yeah!

President BUSH: Do you want your government to question the terrorists?

CROWD: Yeah!

President BUSH: Do you want your government to do whatever it takes to bring justice to the terrorists?

CROWD: Yeah!

President BUSH: And so when Republicans ask for your vote on November 7, what's your answer?

CROWD: Yeah!

GREENE: So the president really got the crowd excited, talking about terrorism.

Another issue he brought up was marriage. He spoke about a recent New Jersey state Supreme Court decision which gave same sex couples the same rights as married couples, and the president believes there should be a federal ban on same sex marriage. He brought up that issue today and the crowd really cheered and evidently agreed with him.

ELLIOTT: Now, another issue that's been important this campaign has been the war in Iraq. And the president has been dogged by a lot of bad news out of Iraq lately. Did he address that today?

GREENE: He talked about it briefly in his speech, but the real news on Iraq came earlier in the day. The president actually, before he went to Indiana, had a conversation with Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki. They released a joint statement from the two governments saying they're setting up a working group to better define the security partnership and enhance coordination between the two governments.

It seemed in response to some evidence recently that there has been a growing rift between Prime Minister Maliki and the president. Maliki has spoken about not wanting to appear as America's man in Iraq, and also has seemed to be a little resistant to timetables that the U.S. government has been setting on his government. So I think this was a time for the president and prime minister to display some unity for both people in Iraq and the U.S. to see.

ELLIOTT: NPR's David Greene traveling with the president.

Thank you so much.

GREENE: Thank you, Debbie.

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